Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ich Bin Ein New Yorker?

You can't blame Illinois-ans for feeling a burdensome sense of inferiority these days.

The White Sox are languishing around the .500 level. The Blackhawks and the Bulls are playing golf again during the playoff season.

Even the most rabid Cubs fans are wondering why their team is still in the Majors. If this was the European Premiereship League the Cubs would have been relegated to Serie "F" in 1909, never to return. A T-shirt seen at Wrigley Field recently stated: "Hey, every team has a bad century once in awhile."

Okay, so the White Sox clobbered the Yankees last night, but that doesn't count. Everybody beats the vaunted Bronx Bombers.

I won't even pile on and mention the pathetic performance by Dah Bears last January.

A short-lived sense of euporia lifted Illinois residents for a short time when they found themselves with the two front runners in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination.

This should have come as no surprise since Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, has a long and storied (some say bizarre) political tradition.

Illinois, after all, is the only state in the Union that has three senators and was able, without the slightest giggle, to report that JFK received 160% of the vote in Cook County.

So why is it that the good citizens of Illinois in general and Chicago in particular still feel this underwhelming sense of inferiority vis-a-vis their big brother to the east.

Maybe a recent story in the New York Post has something to do with it.

While campaigning through the Empire State Senator Barack Hussein Obama declared himself a New Yorker to an adoring crowd of admirers. His rationale, curiously, was the fact that he attended Columbia University more than two decades ago. Am I nitpicking? I think not. Not until I hear him declare himself Hawaiian--or Indonesian for that matter--will I believe that his identification with NYC is anything less than evidence of the deeply-held sense of inferiority experienced by most, if not all, citizens of the Second City.

Gadzooks! Even the self-applied nickname is an affront. They could have called themselves The Big Shoulders Comedy Troupe, The Windy City Comedy Troupe. Jeez-Louise, even the Hog Butchers Comedy Troupe is better than Second City.

Tell me, do you know any New Yorker who attended... let's say... Union College of Barbourville, Kentucky who would declare to the world: "I am an Appalachian"?

No! New Yorkers are New Yorkers down to the bone and will tell you so at every opportunity.

Yes, I tell people that I graduated from UCLA (University on the Corner of Lexington Avenue) but that's a joke.

My own senator, Ms. Rob-Em Clinton, considers herself multi-lingual because of her ability to slide between Brooklyn-ese, Arkansas drawl and Midwestern nasal twang within the same sentence. Curious? Not if you understand her history. But then again, enlightened people should maintain expansive and inclusive definitions of both multi and lingual.

Just ask Rosie O'Donnell. I understand that she recently told a joke in the obscure Chinese dialect spoken only in the remote region of Ching-Chong. Talk about inferiority, here's a pathetic blob of protoplasm who tells everyone that her hard edge comes from growing up in New York, when she spent her formative years in a remote ex-urbian outpost known as Commack, Long Island.

I'll bet Commack-ians are busting their buttons over this dubious honor.

Sort of like Chappaqua being famous as the adopted hometown of Bill and Hillary. But then again, Chappaqua has long been known as the bedroom community of choice for every low-life dirtbag lawyer in New York, so what's new.

But back to the main topic. Why do Barack and Hitlery have this compulsive desire to be Noo Yawkers? I think it's the inborn sense of optimism and confidence that native New Yorkers radiate. By growing up in the most densely populated and frenetic community in America, one develops a hard-shell patina as a means of protection. But, by the same token, New Yorkers instinctively understand that a collective personality inclined toward tolerance, grudging courtesy and mutual respect for each other's space is essential for peaceful coexistence. Outsiders may believe that New Yorkers are cold and distant. I believe that we're incredibly good natured given the circumstances. But, you'll just have take our word for that.

When the burly truck driver in the diner bellows: "Hey Mack! I said pass the sugar!" as one did to me yesterday, we know that he means it lovingly. It's kind of like baseball signals or what Bible scholars call a shibboleth: language meant to be understood by a close knit community. And that's what we are; eight million plus neighbors who understand each other perfectly. Interlopers may chomp on a knish in front of the TV cameras then retreat to their gated compounds, but they will never understand what it means to be a New Yorker.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner" and his words resonated throughout the world because he was affirming solidarity with people who had suffered isolation from friends and neighbors, brothers, sisters and cousins. When today's politicians proclaim that they are New Yorkers because they spent a four hour layover at La Guardia, to quote John Cleese, it is something completely different.

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